Antigua seeks support for its WTO dispute with US

Antigua’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, has called on the nonaligned-movement for its “active solidarity” in the country’s long-running dispute with the United States over a 2004 World Trade Organisation (WTO) arbitral award made in its favour in relation to a dispute over online gaming.

Speaking over the weekend of September 17/18 at the nonaligned summit on Venezuela’s Isla Margarita, Mr Browne said that in the thirteen years since the WTO ruling, the US government had failed to reach a settlement.

“To this day 13 years later the United States has not put a fair offer on the table,” Mr Browne told the meeting. Washington, he said, had deprived “my small country of revenue, employment and economic growth.” He said that Antigua had lost US$250m in revenue since the ruling.

“This domineering behaviour by the US is troublesome,” he told the meeting. “We are a small state, but we have rights too. And we will stand in defence of the sovereign rights of Antigua and Barbuda.”

In 2003, Antigua launched a WTO claim over America’s refusal to allow Antigua-licensed online operators to access the US market. In 2007, the WTO awarded Antigua an annual US$21m in damages, but to date the US has not paid anything.

The Antiguan Prime Minister said that his government is now considering adopting the WTO solution of providing US digital material (TV shows, films, music, games and books) without paying copyright to the value of US$12m per annum in order to obtain a settlement.

“We have reached such a level of frustration at the recalcitrance of the US to make a fair offer for the injury that has been done to our economy over the last 13 years that my government is contemplating activating the remedy that is given to us by the WTO,” he told representatives from the 120 countries attending the summit.

Describing its dispute with the US as a test case of whether “small and micro-states can get justice when powerful nations refuse to cooperate,” the Antiguan Prime Minister said in particular that the movement’s members that belong to the G20 (India, Indonesia and South Africa) should lobby for the interests of smaller nations that have been left “defenceless in a world where only the powerful rule.”

Mr Browne asked: “How can it be that the United States, the most powerful economy and county in the world, can so blatantly disregard the very trade rules that it demands be observed by other countries?” He described the US Trade Representative’s offers to date as “insubstantial” and as “not seriously (to) be considered as a basis for a settlement.”

Mr Browne said that, although a bilateral matter, the issue went to the heart of the efficacy of the World Trade Organisation and “whether small and micro-states can get justice when powerful nations refuse to cooperate.” He said that Antigua had sought the intervention of the WTO Director-General in a “good offices” capacity, tried bilateral negotiations and suspended Antigua’s right to retaliate, but that the matter had been dragged out by the US to the detriment of Antigua’s economy.

The US government…

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